Written by Samuel Daniel
Performed at Hampton Court Palace
This is considered to be the first masque of the Jacobean age and was put on with some excitement from the rest of the court. Scheduled for the end of the Christmas festivities, it was a finale for the first Christmas of James I’s reign in England. It drew strongly on classical mythology, particularly Greek, with the central character being Iris, messenger of the Gods. It took place amongst Anglo-Spanish peace negotiations, which eventually came to fruition later that year (after twenty years of anglo-Spanish hostility, this peace treaty marked the beginning of James’ aims for peace).
This was a Twelfth Night masque including the performance of ladies of the court in the masque proper, including the Queen, Anne of Denmark. The women were painted black rather than wearing masques, however their costumes, described as “rich” were perceived by many onlookers to be “too light and curtisan-like” (Carleton). It was described by Nicoló Molin as “very beautiful and sumptuous”, however the English seemed much less keen. It was rumoured to be a very expensive masque, with a large stage and rich costuming.
It was performed for the marriage of the Earl of Essex and Frances Howard, the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk. It was the first masque performed at the new Banqueting House at Whitehall, which had been designed by Inigo Jones. The Queen performed, and it was largely suggested that the women she chose to accompany her were Catholics. It caused some diplomatic controversy, with precedence and favour being central to masque culture, and so the invitation of the Spanish, and not the French, ambassador to the festivities provoked bitter resentment on the French side. The French ambassador wrote that he would “at the hazard of my life… kill the Spaniard… at the feet of the king”.
Performed for the marriage of the Earl of Essex and Frances Howard, the daughter of the Earl of Suffolk. This was not a royal masque, however it was performed in front of many courtiers. The renowned composer, Alfonso Ferrabosco, created the music for the masque. John Pory said of the masque “Inigo, Ben, and the actors men and weomen did their partes with great commendation”.
This performance was in honour of a wedding; that of James, Lord Hay (a Scottish aristocrat) and Honara (daughter of Lord Denny). It was also a twelfth night performance. The costs were covered, not by the Royal family, but by the Howard and Cecil families. Due to the Queen’s enmity towards the Howards, she did not attend. There was much rich music provided by multiple composers, including Campion, Lupo and Giles.
This performance celebrated the marriage of The masque celebrated the marriage of John, Lord Ramsay, Viscount Haddington, to Lady Elizabeth Radclyffe. Many Gentlemen of the court performed int he masque proper, whilst the musicians were all dressed as Priests. It is an adaptation of the Idyll, an ancient Greek text which was extremely popular throughout the Renaissance era. The costumes of the courtier masquers reportedly cost hundreds of pounds each.
This masque is noteworthy as it is when Jonson elaborated his idea of the antimasque, something which became integral to the masque structure for the remainder of the Stuart era. The antimasque provides a commentary on the witch craze, which was significant at this time, whilst the masque proper uses the ladies of court to dispel the chaos and evil of the witches. Alfonso Ferrabosco composed the music and Thomas Giles choreographed the dance of the hags (although we do not know what this looked like). In part of the antimasque, the performers “with a strange and sudden music… fell into a magical dance full of preposterous change and gesticulation”, in comparison to the Queen and her ladies, whose dance was “full of subtle and excellent changes”.
A piece steeped in mythic sentiments and symbology, it was written to celebrate the investiture of Prince Henry as Prince of Wales. The masque conveys the congratulations of Queen Anne to her husband, King James, and son. Thus, Tethy (Queen of the Ocean) sends Zephyrus (her messenger, played by Charles Duke of York, the future Charles I) to the British Prince (Meliades) and the Ocean King. Strong Tudor sentiments were emphasised, not only to link the Stuart and Tudor Dynasties, but also due to the Tudor link to Wales. The masque was described as “most glorious”, and the same report, by John Finnett, suggests that the party ended “within half an hour of the sun’s not setting, but rising”.
Henry, Prince of Wales took the title role on this masque and was praised for the grace of his “every movement”. Apparently he had wanted to stage the masque on horseback, an idea vetoed by his father. Despite not being allowed to spend the masque on horseback, the Prince entered the scene in a magnificent chariot, drawn by “two white bears” – polar bears kept for bear baiting. As with all the masques designed by Inigo Jones, it was rich and sumptuous, with fantastic scenery and costumes. Oberon’s character was there to restore order, and since he was played by the Prince, he represented the Royal family and the King.
This masque was cheaper than many other masques had been. It was also the last masque in which Anne of Denmark performed. She played Queen of the Orient with her ladies taking on roles as Daughters of the Morn – they all had to be rescued from their imprisonment by a sphinx. The antimasque contrasted, with 12 she-fools, representing ignorance “the enemy of love and beauty”. The ladies were described as “the perfect issue of beauty and all wordly grace… carried by Love to celebrate the majesty and wisdom of the King, figured in the sun”.
This was a much less expensive masque than many others which came before and after. It came in at only £280 instead of the thousands many other masques ran into; this could be to do with the fact that James I was struggling with debt at the time. Again, mythical characters are central to the plot, with Robin Goodfellow, Plutus God of Wealth and Cupid all claiming parts. It, interestingly, acknowledges itself as a theatrical production, and Robin Goodfellow, originally denied entrance to the masque, manages to sneak in. Due to the fact that Inigo Jones was not involved, it lacks the sumptuous and transformative elements of other Jonsonian masques.
Written for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick, Elector of Palatine, it was performed on their wedding night. The masque emphasised the gendered and patriarchal formulation of marriage, as was expected by the Stuart court. Furthermore, it praised the divine right of James I, a consistent theme, not just within masque culture, but throughout Stuart ideology. As the first royal wedding to be celebrated in England since that of Mary I and Phillip II of Spain, the celebrations proved to be most magnificent.
This featured as a part of the celebrations for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick, Elector of Palatine. It was sponsored by two of the four Inns of Court. This masque had an interesting focus on the New World, and particularly on Virginia. Principal masquers were labelled to be Native Americans, or Princes of Virginia, and were dressed sumptuously in gold and silver (not a particularly accurate representation of the native people). Again, figures of classical mythology are present as part of the story. The contemporary opinion saw the masque as a “glittering shew” and were particularly praised for their “excellent dauncing”.
… & Gray’s Inn
Written by Francis Beaumont
Performed at Whitehall’s Banqueting House
A masque created for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick, Elector of Palatine, which was sponsored by two of the four Inns of Court. It was performed alongside a variety of other theatrical plays, including Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which features its own masque-like section. Greek mythology is central to the characters and story, with Mercury and Iris acting as the presenters. It incorporated a procession to Whitehall and two antimasques, as well as the masque proper where 15 Knights of Olympia took centre-stage.
Written by Thomas Campion
Performed at Caversham Park
Designed for Queen Anne following her daughter’s marriage, the masque was not dissimilar to the entertainments which were offered to Elizabeth I on her progresses. It was set into the landscape, designed to fit within it as the Queen progressed towards her destination. Actors appeared out of bushes, and she was greeted in the lower garden by a gardener who presented the Queen with flowers. This sort of staging was seen as a typical progress entertainment.
Its theme is looking at the proper use to which mercury, representing wit and learning, ought to be put. This masque is set in an alchemist’s laboratory. It has been theorised by Chambers that this masque marked an important point in the factional politics of the Stuart Court. With the descending fortunes of the favourite, Robert Carr, there was the promotion by one court faction (who also promoted the likes of Jonson) of George Villiers; the masque therefore may have been to bring “young Villiers” into the limelight.
The twelve masquers, labelled the Sons of Phoebus, were all named after great English poets. The major theme appears to be the reformation of a corrupt court; a prevalent subject at the time due to the scandal surrounding Robert Carr and the murder of Thomas Overbury. We do not know if this event had any impact on the masque’s creation, however the morals it portrays hint at an influence. The King was pleased with the performance and ordered a repeat of it a few days later. In all the splendour of the Stuart court, the masque seeks a Golden Age of justice, and succeeds through heavenly will, thus asserting the Stuart divine right to rule.
This masque was set into a highly politicised environment; it was performed on the day George Villiers, in his grand rise to become favourite at the courts of both James I and Charles I, was made Earl of Buckingham. Furthermore, both Pocahontas and Tomocomo were present for the first performance. It also played directly into James I’s requests to restore some power and population to the countryside, an aim he had been following since 1614. He wanted London to become less wealthy and the countryside wealthier. In the Vision of Delight, the court is restored to the countryside, where all the vices and chaos of the antimasque are vanquished. It has retained its positive reputation since its first performance and was one of Jonson’s most successful masques.
This piece marked the debut of Prince Charles, following the death of his brother Henry in 1612, to Stuart court life, and to the stage. This masque is another of Jonson’s works which criticises the excesses of the court whilst praising “royal mediation in the countryside”. It was written soon after James I’s “Book of Sports” and the liturgical element of the masque may well be drawn from this. By this point, Jonson stopped using biting satire to criticise the court, showing more tolerance in his expectations of morality. However, it was criticised at the time for having no “extraordinary devise” designed by Inigo Jones, however the Venetian description of the masque itself was more positive, describing the revels as having “beautiful turns to delight the fancy”.
Written by Unknown
Performed at Coleorton Hall
This is a fascinating masque, in part due to the lack of information available about it, as we only found out its existence in 1808. It was performed for the wedding of Frances Devereux (sister to the Earl of Essex) and Sir William Seymour. An interesting historical figure, Sir William Seymour had made a forbidden match with Lady Arabella Stuart, for which the Lady was imprisoned until her death in 1615. Until this point Sir William had spent his time on the continent to avoid punishment; following her death he was allowed home. This is when he made the match with Frances Devereux. It is not as elegant, symbolic or as high place as the court masques, with no people jostling for a seat, no court factions and no King. It praises Coleorton and its local residents, playing into the interests of the old aristocracy, by criticising Puritans.
Written by Thomas Middleton & William Rowley.
Performed at Denmark House
This was the only masque written by Middleton and Rowley, however it was described as being performed “diverse times” by Rowley’s acting troupe, Prince Charles’ Men. Commissioned by Prince Charles, it aimed to move James I away from his neutral foreign policy, something which he pursued throughout his reign. This was particularly due to the fact that the Thirty Years War had just been started by James I’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, and her husband, Frederick, Elector of Palatine – putting England seemingly in the middle of the fight, however James I was refusing to get involved, and Charles felt passionately that they should aid his sister.
Written by Ben Jonson
Performed at Burleigh-on-the-Hill, Belvoir Castle & Windsor Castle
This is quite probably the most popular of Jonson’s masques. It was commissioned by George Villiers, Marquis of Buckingham by this point, to celebrate his marriage to Lady Katherine Manners. Unusually it did not rely on any classical Gods or Goddesses for its plot. Nor did it personify abstract qualities such as valour or pride, as many other masques had done. The gypsies, stereotypically fortune tellers who danced and sung, are the main characters. Their metamorphosis is that their skin turns from dark to light under the beneficent rule of James I.
With Prince Charles dancing as the main masquer, it praises the idea of a Spanish match in marriage for him. The masque predicted that such a match would be a wonderful success, which proved entirely wrong. Unease in the working relationship of Jonson and Jones was showing, and Jonson’s character Vangoose has been perceived as a mockery of Jones’ background, as both had a thick foreign accent.
Utilising two antimasques, Jonson includes juggling and tumbling, before returning to the serious narrative of the masque which utilises classical mythology as most of Jonson’s masques do, with Saturn, Venus and Cupid all taking parts. Equally, magnificent were Jones’ scenes, designs and technical design. It was not a well received masque, due to a time of increasing political tension, and the subject of scandal, however critical he may have been of it, was not a popular one to be depicting. On the other hand, Jones’ scenery and costumes were very well received.
Although this was scheduled as part of the Twelfth Night entertainments, the masque was cancelled due to the tense diplomatic situation between the French and Spanish, which the English were in the middle of. English involvement in the failed attempt to gain a Spanish match had caused much of the continuing resentment. As the masque was never performed, Jonson reused various parts of it in his future works.
This was the last masque performed to James I and VI before his death, and therefore is the last Jacobean masque. The Venetian Ambassador described how “the Prince gave a splendid masque, with much machinery and the most beautiful scenery. They danced for four hours after midnight”. It was clearly a successful piece and reflected James’ own ambitions for a unified nation.
This piece was the first masque performed following the ascension of Charles I, and it was also the first in which a reigning monarch took part. The six-year lapse between the final masque of James’ reign and the first in Charles’ could be because Charles’ bride, Henrietta Maria, was too young to take a leading role in the masques in 1625, being only fifteen years old. The text considered the benefits of platonic love through the idealised city of Callipolis, a city dedicated to virtue and beauty.
This was the final masque produced by Jonson for the Stuart court. It was the second in a set, coming after “Love’s Triumph through Callipolis”, and starring Henrietta Maria, rather than the King. Dealing with the theme of platonic versus sensuous love, and featuring creatures emerging from hell, it was as spectacular as any masque could be. The end of Jonson’s career at court was due to the clashes occurring between him and Jones; Jonson felt that Jones took too much of the credit and praise for their joint ventures. His jealousy peaked when he omitted Jones’ name from the publication of the masque texts. In retribution for this Jones used his connections with he court to ensure his rival would not write for the for them again.
This must be noted as one of the first instances in which women took speaking roles on a public stage in England. It was dedicated to Queen Henrietta Maria and she had been closely involved in both its development and performance. It was based on the text of a ballet de cour, Balet Comique de la Royne by by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx. The singer-actress who took the role of Circe in this piece was recorded as “Madame Coniack”, quite possibly of French origin, although we know nothing else about her. The Queen herself played a silent role, Divine Beauty, the opposite of Circe in her ordered and chaste movements. The Venetian Ambassador described it as “a sumptuous masque with wonderfully rich decorations”, unsurprising with Jones in charge of the design.
This was the most lavish spectacle provided for the King on his 1633 progress through the North. There had been a series of skirmishes in Somerset, caused by the suppression of parish sales of alcohol by Local Justices of the Peace, who were thought to be Puritans by Laud and Charles. In response Charles had republished the Book of Sports. He forced the revocation of the order against revelry, as he described them as “decent and sober recreations”. Despite this, in the masque, Jonson banishes such revelry. Instead, the King is given the role of bringer of delights to the people. Charles enjoyed the entertainment so much that Jonson was called upon again, in 1634, to produce “Love’s Welcome at Bolsover”, a lavish piece of entertainment.
This masque was sponsored by the four Inns of court in order to disassociate themselves with the text Histriomastix by William Prynne, a member of their circle and Puritan, whose book was thought to be insulting to Queen Henrietta Maria. The data we have on this masque is some of the most well preserved, with lists of cast, musicians, instruments, cue sheets, etc. Inigo Jones created extravagant and colourful costumes, and the pageant-like procession to Whitehall was so impressive that the King and Queen asked them to turn around and complete the route again. It was hugely successful, and the Venetian Ambassador described it well: “Their display at the palace with a numerous, stately and glittering calvacade, by their dresses, liveries and devices, attracted a great crowd, exciting the curiosity and applause of all the people, and afforded particular gratification to their Majesties”.
… at Bolsover
Written by Ben Jonson
Performed at Bolsover Castle
The last masque of Ben Jonson’s before his death was not one financially supported by the Stuart Court. However, it was produced by the Duke of Newcastle for the King and Queen (Charles and Henrietta Maria) and he spent huge sums of money to stage it. In the masque, Jonson continues the rivalry which had developed between Inigo Jones and himself; the rivalry which had meant that he was no longer writing for the court. He attempted to suggest that the court ought to be less removed from the people, and parodied court arts, although successfully did so without offending the King.
Written by John Milton
Performed at Ludlow Castle
It’s formal name is “A Mask presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634”, however it is colloquially known as Comus. This was a masque commissioned by Lord Bridgewater in celebration of his appointment to the post of Lord President of Wales. Milton, a Puritan, has been seen as using his skills as a writer to reclaim the masque genre (making it not just something for royalty), not using the fancy machinery of Court masques to create spectacle, rather creating an elaborate and complex plot, more like a drama. Yet, it also stuck to some more traditional formats, such as the structure, including the use of a chaotic antimasque and the focus on the subjects of chastity and virtue.
Written by Thomas Carew
Performed at Whitehall’s Banqueting House
This was Carew’s first and only masque piece. It was performed by the King and his gentlemen. Charles was in the process of reforming his ostentatious court, trying to centralise cultural power back to himself. The masque reveres Charles I’s court as something which the Gods try to mimic. The central theme is the triumph of courtly virtue over vice. It also emphasised the Stuart rule over the whole of the United kingdom of England, Scotland and Ireland (something which did not happen until 1707, under Queen Anne).
Written by William D’Avenant
Performed at Whitehall Palace
As was more common in Caroline than Jacobean masques, the ladies of the court and the Queen herself performed in this masque. It followed Brittannia Triumphans, Charles’ masque, and this one was the Queen’s. It has been suggested that the masque gave a positive and optimistic view of Catholic interests at court; not entirely surprising considering Henrietta Maria’s own Catholicism. It was a rich spectacle, featuring Aurora “in a chariot touched with gold, borne up by a rosy-coloured cloud, her garment white trimmed with gold”.
The last masque before the Civil War, the political imagery emphasises the division between chaos and peace, so often seen in masques of the Stuart court. Described by Wayne Phelps as “innocently ironic”, its role as the last Caroline masque has made it a mask of interest to many historians. The performance of both the King and Queen is an unusual element of this masque and the presence of Henrietta Maria’s mother, Marie de’ Medici, also adds to the importance of the masque.
To note: this does not claim to be a comprehensive list of masques performed either at the Stuart Court or in the Stuart era. Rather, it is a list of masques that came up most frequently in my research.
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Parties at the Stuart Court